Monday, February 18, 2013

Feb. 19 Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

Anna Karenina 

The combination of director Joe Wright and actress Kiera Knightley usually translates to Oscar gold, as it did in Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, but it meets its Waterloo here in tackling the stiff, surly prose of Leo Tolstoy. The meandering Russian tale of forbidden aristocratic love — Knightley's character spurns her stiff, high-ranking husband, played by Jude Law for military man Aaron Taylor-Johnson — fails to ignite. Sumptuous visuals and passionate performances can't save the lead-footed tale. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo features deleted scenes, a featurette on the story, several background featurettes and Wright's commentary.


Ben Affleck continues to thrust himself into the top echelon of directors with this masterful espionage tale about a daring CIA rescue of Americans caught in Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. Affleck pulls double duty, starring as the agent who dreams up a caper of masquerading as a filmmaker scouting locations in Iran in order to make off with the would-be hostages. Vigorous pacing, heavy suspense and authentic performances sell the captivating drama. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo includes Affleck's commentary, picture-in-picture insights and a look at the story that inspired the film.

Atlas Shrugged: Part 2

The determined, if questionably talented, cast and crew of Ayn Rand devotees continue to hack their way through the lionized author's obtuse prose, spinning a laborious tale of an economy torn asunder by socialist tendencies. Preachy and unafraid of schmaltz, the material will either annoy you or tell you exactly what you want to hear, depending on your political leanings. Deleted scenes, a close-up with Sean Hannity, who makes a cameo in the movie, and a behind-the-scenes featurette fill out the package.

Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome

Apparently frustrated that its Battlestar Galactica reboot has run its course and came to a definitive end, Syfy seems determined to milk spinoffs out of its franchise. Following the interesting but unsuccessful deep prequel series Caprica comes this movie, which could well serve as a pilot for a new prequel series. Taking over for Edward James Olmos, Luke Pasqualino plays the younger Adama, a hotshot fighter pilot who is moving up the ranks as humanity is slaughtered by the Cylon menace. Impressive effects and an intriguing roundup of surely doomed characters lend color and heft to the production, but the movie — while fun — probably isn't enough to hook me on another full-blown Galactica series. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo includes an unrated cut of the film, deleted scenes and a look at the effects.

Fun Size

Victoria Justice makes a rickety transition from Nickelodeon star to movie lead in this droll, Halloween-themed comedy. Justice plays a teenager who juggles an out-of-control social life with the desperate chase to track down her lost little brother. Lifeless dialogue and predictable plotting make the movie insufferable, not allowing the talented Justice to rise to her capabilities. The Blu-ray/digital copy combo includes deleted scenes, a gag reel, a Carly Rae Jaepsen video and a making-of featurette.

Hats Off to Dr. Seuss Collector's Edition Blu-ray

Previous Warner Bros. efforts to package short-form adaptation of Seuss's beloved stories individually were questionable values, but that's not so with this anthology. The Lorax, Green Eggs and Ham, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Cat in the Hat and Horton Hears a Who all appear in this roundup, which makes for an excellent impromptu Seuss animation festival. Two hours of special features, including other miniature adaptations of Seuss books, are also here.

On the Waterfront Blu-ray

Criterion deliver a long-overdue tribute to Elia Kazan's astounding 1954 drama, which boasts one of moviedom's game-changing performances with Marlon Brando as a longshoreman who suffers a crisis of conscience when he's placed under the thumb of a mobster. The vivid black-and-white cinematography pops with theatrical glory, giving the movie a sheen I'd seen many times before but never witness. Extras abound, including new interviews with actors from the movie, including Eva Marie Saint, a new documentary on the making of the movie, commentary from movie historians and an impressive tribute book. 


Blending the off-kilter sensibilities of Korean and Japanese horror along with back-to-basics frights reminiscent of 1970s American fright flicks, director Scott Derrickson's film never fails to impress. Ethan Hawke plays a true crime author and beleaguered family man who unwisely moves his brood into a small-town home that served as a setting for an unsolved mass murder. Predictably, the family ends up int he crosshairs of the intrigue, but the story takes many twists that harken back to The Shining and the original The Amityville Horror. Derrickson checks in on a pair of commentary tracks, and featurettes fill you in on the story's creepy facets. Deleted scenes with Derrickson's commentary are also there.

The Terminator (Remastered) Blu-ray

The previous Terminator Blu-ray looked pretty good, and it takes an eye trained better than mine to notice any relevant upgrade in this remastered cut of the 1984 sci-fi stalwart. The film's effects are hit and miss, with the seams more noticeable in HD than they were in the fuzzy VHS days. That's not to say I'd be so silly as to recommend a VHS or DVD version above this spectacular-looking transfer. Seven deleted scenes, a retrospective on the film and a making-of featurette fill out the extras. 

Top Gun 3D Blu-ray

The unashamedly goofy 1986 dogfighting classic flips on the afterburners to make yet another pass on Blu-ray, this time soaring into the third dimension, for anyone who actually has one of the TVs equipped to display the fading fad. The inclusion of the 2D Blu-ray and a digital copy ups the value proposition, but the extra features have remained unchanged from the 2011 25th anniversary edition Blu-ray release. 

Screeners were provided by the studios for review.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Feb. 12 Blu-ray/DVD releases


This is a true horror movie. Attaining preternatural access into the lives of bullied children, director Lee Hirsch shows just how brutal and bitter life can be for kids who are singled out for constant physical and psychological torture by impossibly cruel persecutors. The raw and devastating footage serves as a sorely needed wake-up call to tear the lid off one of society's closeted cancers. The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack includes deleted scenes, a filmmaker Q&A and public service announcements that deliver the movie's message.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower 

The lauded teen coming-of-age drama lost me in the third act, which takes an unneccessary twist that muddies up what was previously a moving and relatable tale. Logan Lerman plays a depressive freshman who starts hanging around with a pair of counterculture-embedded upperclassmen (Emma Watson and Ezra Miller) who help him find himself. The Blu-ray/digital copy combo includes commentary from writer/director Stephen Chobsky, as well as a separate track with Chobsky and several castmembers. Deleted scenes, dailies and a featurette round out the package.

The Sessions 

Sure, it may be Cinemax-style soft-core porn lightly disguised as inspirational drama, but there's plenty of film-snob value here, thanks to a trio of mesmerizing performances by the leads. John Hawkes plays a romantically stifled writer who relies on an iron lung to survive. Enter Helen Hunt as a hands-on therapist who provides some heavy-duty sexual healing. William H. Macy rounds out the trio of heavy-hitting performances as a befuddled priest who walks the Hawkes character through the moral implications of his therapy. The Blu-ray/digital copy combo includes looks at the performances, deleted scenes and cast interviews. 

Silent Hill: Revelation 

Not that the 2006 original was much to live up to, but this wretched sequel embarrasses the franchise by dispensing with the tenuous hold on logic by the previous movie and increasingly nonsensical game series. Adelaide Clemens plays ah school student who hunts for her lost father (Sean Bean) in the haunted title town, with would-be lover with a secret (Kit Harrington) tagging along. Poorly rendered gross-out CGI imagery plagues a parade of silly, inane nightmare sequences that add up to very little. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo includes a small making-of featurette.


I lump this head-scratchingly beloved Bond flick along with The Dark Knight Rises as the most inexplicably overrated movies of 2012. The heedless 'splosion fest gets off to an invigorating start before devolving into a Home Alone clone. Daniel Craig delivers his usualy steely excellence and Javier Bardem cuts an intriguing figure as a sexually ambiguous villain bent on getting inside the unflappable hero's skull. The film is far more rich in style than substance and, like Quantum of Solace, fails to deliver on the promise of the Casino Royale reboot. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo includes loads of background featurettes and filmmaker commentaries.

Weeds: Season 8 

Showtime's meandering comedy about a drug-dealing suburban mom (Mary-Louise Parker) who rose to the ranks of master criminal, then crashed spectacularly before trying to scoop the shards of her life back together, makes for a rewarding victory lap. The show has long since lost its edge, and Parker's character is so insufferably narcissistic that she's tough to watch at times, but the writers show some creativity in the final run. A roundtable discussion with the show's creator and producers, deleted scenes, a gag reel and cast and crew commentaries fill out the two-disc set.

Screeners were provided by the studios for review.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Feb. 5 Blu-ray/DVD releases

Alex Cross 

Tyler Perry shelves his overused Madea character for a bit to take on the role of a cop gone rogue in this amiable but dull action flick. A cop on the verge of taking an FBI desk job before his life is thrown into turmoil, Perry's titutlar character and his partner (Edward Burns) tangle with a demented murderer (played by a gaunt Matthew Fox) in an explosion-prone Detroit. Director Rob Cohen does what he can to liven up the humorless take on a Lethal Weapon-like concept. The Blu-ray/digital copy combo includes Cohen's commentary, deleted scenes anda  featurette on the adaptation from the source book.

Celeste and Jesse Forever 

Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg play a couple that has separated and struggles to maintain an intimate friendship as they move on to the next stage. Romances for both parties complicate things, and the bittersweet romantic comedy forces both characters to come to terms with their roles in one anothers' lives. Jones seens a bit too old for Samberg, and the role, but the chemistry they conjure is convincing. Extras include deleted scenes, commentaries from the cast and filmmakers, a making-of featurette and a red carpet premiere Q&A.


Denzel Washington tosses another remarkable performance onto the pile, playing an alcoholic pilot who improbably navigates his rickety aircraft to safety amid a terrible storm. Once he recovers from his injuries, the real turbulence begins, as he struggles with a heroic reception blended with a federal investigation into his altered state of mind during the flight. Don Cheadle and Kelly Reilly leave impressions in strong supporting roles, and a freewheeling John Goodman steals all of his scenes. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo boasts a breakdown of the mesmerizing plane crash scene and a pair of making-of featurettes,

Here Comes the Boom

Kevin James checks in with yet another forgettable family comedy, this time playing a science teacher turned MMA fighter, grappling for funds to save the school's music department and scoring with a hard-up school nurse played by Salma Hayek on the side. It's a wonder that the insultingly awful story is somehow watchable, thanks mainly due to the lead's eagerness to physically humiliate himself for cheap laughs, but the movie is still largely an inoffensive waste of time. The Blu-ray/digital copy combo includes a look at the training regimen and sundry forgettable background featurettes.

Peter Pan Diamond Edition Blu-ray 

Disney's 1953 film was always one of the studio's uglier classics, but the switch to HD boosts its look considerably. The animation is still comparatively stiff and unimaginative compared to the studio's other landmark animated movies from the era, but the movie seems refreshed and more alive than in muddy previous releases. Much like Dumbo, the film still suffers from a slew of embarrassingly racist moments in the midsection. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo boasts a slew of new background featurettes, as well as previous featurettes and deleted scenes from the previous DVD release.

A Star is Born Blu-ray

Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand pairup for the 1976 version of the too-often-filmed story. The slow-burn melodramatic love story takes a while to get where it's going, but Streisand's star power is in full effect and Kristofferson is deliciously bitter enough to keep things watchable. If you remember the movie from 1980s cable or VHS, the sharp vividness of the Blu-ray transfer will make it look like a new film. Packaged as a tribute booklet, the film comes with extras including Streisand's commentary, deleted scenes and wardrobe tests.

Screeners were provided by the studios for review.